NEW ORLEANS – Ray Lewis has been faced with some questions he didn't much like in the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVII, and his alleged use of deer antler spray leaves him in danger of finishing his career with some extra scars on his legacy.
But while the Baltimore Ravens icon has gone into the kind of defensive mode that has terrorized all those opposing offenses for the past 17 seasons, his biggest defense comes clad in purple and black, in the form of his Ravens teammates.
The respect held for Lewis in this organization goes way beyond the normal bounds of camaraderie. It is like a cult, and no negative words will be tolerated about a man who is an on- and off-field leader, whatever other unpleasant aspects there are to his story.
So much so that all across the Ravens haven of the locker room, there are homages that have been planned and devised in detail, even with a playoff run and the Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers to focus on.
The tributes to Lewis will remain once he is gone, in an effort to retain some of the passion and drive of a man who is unquestionably the heartbeat of his team.
"Ray's locker is next to mine and I have already told coach [John Harbaugh] that it has to stay empty next season," running back Ray Rice told Yahoo! Sports. "You can't just go and put someone else in there.
"I'm not looking for extra room; I won't even touch it or put anything in there. I will just make sure they keep it clean and keep No.52 on there. That is what I want to do for him because I can never repay all the things he has done for me."
Rice and Lewis are close friends and comrades, but even several newcomers to the Ravens organization have arranged tributes to Lewis in one form or another.
"It seems like everyone wants to do something to keep his spirit alive in the locker room," said running back Anthony Allen, a third-year pro. "I have got a signed picture of him and next season I am going to put it up in my locker and use it to remind me to always fight for what you want, always work hard, always be there for your teammates.
"You can't replace a man like that, but if you can keep hold of some of the great things that he brought, it has to help."
Lewis is spoken about in deferential terms almost universally among Ravens players. Only defensive tackle Haloti Ngata – at 340 pounds and with seven years experience – is big enough and has been around long enough to poke fun at Lewis.
"I can't wait until he is gone," Ngata joked. “Then I won't have to listen to him crying all the time anymore."
According to several players, the catchphrase "win one for Ray" has been constantly uttered ever since a spot in the Super Bowl was secured.
For wide receiver Jacoby Jones, the ultimate dream would be if he could score the game-winning touchdown, then celebrate by paying homage to Lewis.
"There would only be one way to celebrate – by doing the Ray Lewis dance," Jones said. "That is what I want to do. Anyone would love to score in a Super Bowl anyways, but I want to even more for that reason."
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